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Interview: Paul Noonan of Bell X1 (Part 1)

By on Tuesday, 30th April 2013 at 11:00 am

Last Monday, I had the opportunity to talk, via Skype, with Paul Noonan of Bell X1 about their forthcoming album, ‘Chop Chop’. Our conversation was kind of a music nerd’s dream-come-true, with a sort of stream-of-consciousness feel as it wandered through the many thought-provoking aspects of the record. (Minor disclaimer: I have edited the transcript slightly, to avoid giving away too many details before the album’s much-anticipated release.)

Hey, Carrie, it’s Paul Noonan.
Hi, how are you?
I’m good, how are you?
I am good, I’m hanging in there. I’m catching you at the end of your day, I think.
You are, it is half past eight here, yeah. I’ve never done this on Skype before. Is this exciting, or is it sort of weird?
I’ve not done this before either, this is new for me, so we’ll see how it works out. I just have a few little questions for you about ‘Chop Chop’.

I guess we should maybe start with the title. It doesn’t really give anything away as far as what the songs are about.
I suppose not, no. It was a title we came up with a long time ago, before we started the record at all, and I suppose it was a mentality shift. We really wanted to do it quickly and not to think about it a whole lot and to sort of, um, to mine a little more instinct and intuition than maybe we’d done before and not sort of second-guess ourselves as much. And become better musicians as well, in terms of just getting stuff… I’ve often talked about this before, I’ve often sort of thought about musicians in, say, the Motown era and how wonderful they were and how quickly they made records because that’s what you had to do, and there was nothing sort of exceptional about it. The standards, I think, have really fallen as technology advanced and as it allowed you to sort of become lazier and lazier. Initially, actually, we wanted to make sort of two short albums, and call one ‘Chop’ and the other ‘Chop’ and then have some kind of a way of connecting them that they would become ‘Chop Chop’. The time from making a record to it actually getting out is often frustratingly long, and often you spend six months or so sitting on a record you’ve made and are burning to get out and play and to bring to people. And so we wanted, initially wanted, to make a record and put it out very quickly and then tour that, and then do that again. The records would be shorter, so they’d take a lot less time to make and we’d have sort of a more, I suppose, immediacy to putting them out. And then, we just, we kind of gave up on that idea because we…sort of evolved through demo-ing stuff into sort of a, what felt like a more substantial single album. We did make it very quickly, and did make it with that sense of, um, I suppose, not talking about things a whole lot, just playing them and communicating through that medium, which was pretty satisfying.

So, the album is finished, though…and it’s not being released until the end of June?
(laughs) Yeah, we are doing the ‘finish the record and then sit on it for months’. Yeah, um, we’ve wanted to record with Peter Katis for a long time, and we have mutual friends in the States who also know Thomas Bartlett, and we’ve known Thomas for quite a while now, so we’ve often talked about working together. He had worked with Peter a lot, sort of on days, you know here and there on various records that Peter had made, and we just got talking about the idea of all of us, you know the five of us, making a record, and it just so happened that everyone was available for only this sort of 3-week period in January, so we had to do it then and sort of get it done. So, yeah, that was very exciting, it was a bit of a blur because it was really…you know, we often take a lot longer to make records. But I am just, I’m really in that sort of frustrated place where I’d love to have it out and for it to be sort of, you know, we have that sort of childish ‘look what I did’ excitement about it. We’re straining at the leash.

I have heard it already, and it’s exquisite, I really do like it. I know a lot of people who are waiting to hear it.
Oh, great, good.
So, you’ve just answered about 4 questions on my list here…(laughing)
Oh, sorry.

No, no, that’s fine. So that’s how you came to Connecticut to record the album. You chose that place, I assume, because that was convenient for everyone in that short time period?
Yeah, that’s where Peter’s studio is. He has a studio on the 3rd floor of his house in Bridgeport. And I suppose America’s always held a certain romance for me, and people are sort of, sometimes, a bit baffled by it, but just the act of going there and traveling the States and going to places like Bridgeport, which on the surface don’t have a whole lot going on. I would imagine making a record in New York City would have a lot more distraction. But even the act of going to the diner, stuff like that, going to the liquor store holds certain romantic notions. So it was kind of, uh, suburban America in its sort of purest form.

So, the album’s not out until June, but you have put out a couple of songs on Soundcloud already.
That’s right.
‘Starlings Over Brighton Pier’ (video here) and ‘Careful What You Wish For’ (stream here), if I’m right?
Yeah, that’s right, yeah.
Have you had a pretty good response to those so far?
I think so, I mean it’s hard to know how people like to consume their music these days. So, I don’t know, it seems like a pretty easy way of getting it out there and for people to pass it around. You know, there was no CDs needed to be printed and again it was part of that idea of sort of not holding stuff for too long. We put out ‘Starlings’ pretty much as soon as we finished it, and I think we’ll put out a few more. There’s sort of, you know, proper, old school singles that are going to be serviced to radio next. It annoys some people, I know, when you leak songs sort of slowly like that, they prefer to hear the record all in one go and for it to have that sort of…have an identity that’s sort of built up by the collection of songs. That’s something that I think we still hold dear, I know it’s a pretty old school notion that an album has an identity and a feeling that’s cohesive in some way and that the song sequencing matters, and even the gaps between songs. As you put a record together, you agonize over stuff like that. But it’s not really how most people consume music anymore, it’s, you know, single songs flicking around from playlist to playlist. I do that myself. I used to love the idea that of when I’d get a record from a band or an artist that I love, of putting it on in a darkened room, really loud, and lying on the floor. I rarely do that sort of singular act of listening to music anymore.

I am sort of an album person myself. I would have preferred to hear the whole thing through, which I now have, but will there be any more teasers like that before the album is released?
Yeah, the first single will be a song called ‘The End is Nigh’.
I wondered if that would be the one. I was thinking about this compared to Bloodless Coup, the single was obvious on that album, ‘Velcro’. On this one, it was a little less obvious. How did you come to choose that?
I think it’s…(laughing) I don’t really know what makes a single, to be honest. We talk to the people who service our stuff to radio, and they felt it was the most likely to get played, and I bow to them, to be honest. There are probably songs I’d prefer, personally, on the record, but I think it ticks all the boxes.
I think, yeah, that song was a little bit Springsteen-ish, it sort of made me think of that.
Good. Yeah.

Yeah, hopefully that’ll be a good single, I just, when I listened through the album, I was thinking about the track sequencing too. Was that important to you as you put it together, did you put it in this order deliberately?
Yes, and it sort of happened pretty organically. Often these things are done, almost by fucking spreadsheet, where after the fact, everyone sort of puts their preferred orders and we sort of aggregate stuff, and fight, and it eventually comes out through some sort of algorithm, whereas with this one, we started listening to the stuff as we were recording it, you know after a day’s work in the studio, we’d go downstairs and have a few drinks and listen to what we had done, and as the songs sort of built up, they just seemed to fall into this order for some reason.
It does have kind of a nice flow to it. Is it agonizing to go back and listen to your own work like that?
Not at all, no, I really enjoyed it. I generally do listen to stuff pretty intensely around the time of making it and in the kind of immediate aftermath. It’s quite a different approach to sequencing I think we’ve done, in that the most ‘pop’ or raucous number is the last song. With most of the other records, it’s been the opposite, it’s been a sort of a gentle closer. That just felt right, I don’t know. (laughing) I think it matters, but most people probably don’t.

The songs ended up flowing pretty nicely. When I first listened, it seemed like kind of an eclectic grouping of songs, you’ve done some different things, stylistically, than I’ve heard you do before.
OK, good. I think a lot of that was down to Thomas. Thomas was, effectively, another band member in the studio. Of all of his, well, I won’t say all, I don’t know him that long, but anything I’ve seen him do, I’ve seen him play with say Antony and the Johnsons, or The National, or Rufus Wainwright, and in Ireland, and I think they’ve made it to the States, he plays with a group called The Gloaming, which is like, I suppose an Irish trad supergroup with him sort of skewing it in a more interesting way. He just…his choices of notes to play at certain times of the song are very distinctive and very…they add quite a…
A little bit of a different flavor.
Yes. Peter would say that he “brings the sad,” in his sort of, the choice of clusters he plays. He’s an amazing musician. He sort of arranged a lot of the brass, which kind of features quite heavily on the record, and that’s quite a sort of defining thing as well.
Yeah, and there was a lot of different percussion, and a lot of keyboard, a lot of piano.
A lot of piano, yeah, a lot of the songs were born on the piano, most of the songs were born on the piano. And the sort of, very naïve sort of repeating motifs that they would have been born around are still there and are still the sort of focus of the song, like with a song called ‘Careful What You Wish For’ or ‘A Thousand Little Downers’, those sort of opening piano motifs were things I came up with here at home or, uh, I can’t really work a lot at home anymore because I’ve got two small kids, so I’ll borrow or rent studios around town or using sort of rehearsal spaces in town. And I have, like, essentially my phone to record a lot of these sort of initial moments, and a lot of that stuff actually, sort of still made it through to the final record.

It’s a different sound for you, it’s a lot less synthetic-sounding.
Yeah, good, good. I’m glad. We were sort of, pretty, again, that was, I suppose, part of the ‘Chop Chop’ mentality, where we would…shrink the palette, was the mantra, often. Ensuring that the record was, that we would sort of be disciplined about sticking to a much narrower palette and get back to, I suppose, our roots in a more, sort of, purist or traditional way—guitar, bass, drums, piano, singing. I don’t know, I feel it’s, I mean I think I’ve always been sort of most proud or excited about our most recent work, but this is, I feel…we didn’t try so hard this time, I think, as in the past, we may have got a little distracted by the new toys, and with this, it feels like we didn’t, and we didn’t feel like we needed to.

Stay tuned for part 2 to post tomorrow!


Interview: Sel Balamir of Amplifier at Nottingham Rock City

By on Friday, 19th April 2013 at 11:00 am

This interview should have been posted on the site a long while ago (bad editor!) but it got lost in the shuffle while I was sorting out pieces from SXSW 2013. But here it is, our festival liaison and usual Lincoln correspondent, who found himself in Nottingham to catch Sel Balamir of Amplifier before their show in Rock City’s basement that night. (Rock City, if you were wondering, holds a special place in both our hearts now, because we’ve both done interviews in its car park!) Listen to John’s chat with Sel below.


Interview: Matthew Healy of the 1975 at DC9, Washington, DC

By on Friday, 5th April 2013 at 11:00 am

After The 1975‘s soundcheck at Washington club DC, I was able to nab frontman, singer, guitarist and lyricist (whew, that’s a mouthful!) Matthew Healy for a chat in their dressing room. We talked about how the band started, their many names they went through (there are a lot!), their SXSW experience and the 11 (yes, 11!) shows they played in Austin and much more. Listen to it below.

Matthew Healy of the 1975 30 March 2013 TGTF sm


SXSW 2013 Interview: Cathal Cully, Claire Miskimmin and Philip Quinn of Girls Names

By on Friday, 29th March 2013 at 11:00 am

One of the best ‘discoveries’ of mine from SXSW 2013 was guitar band Girls Names from their spiffy appearance at the NI@SXSW showcase on Monday night. I put ‘discoveries’ in quotes, because I really should have heard of them prior to this trip to Austin. No matter though; I’m going to keep a close eye on this Belfast band.

I didn’t think I would be able to find them, as their American PR told me to try and find them at one of their gigs. But I took my chances at showing up at the Music from Ireland breakfast on Friday morning at Irish pub B.D. Riley’s, convinced that I would find at least one hungry Irish band partaking in the free brekky, keen on an interview. After Cathal, Claire and Philip of Girls Names had their breakfast, they kindly answered some questions for me about the lack of punctuation in their name, about their releases to date and much more. I should also mention that we were on the same flight from Austin to Houston Sunday morning, and it was nice I got to see them again and wish them safe travels back to Belfast!


SXSW 2013 Interview: Kris Harris, Rob Wilks and Jack Tarrant of Story Books

By on Tuesday, 26th March 2013 at 11:00 am

Kent’s Story Books were one of my great discoveries pre-SXSW as I was preparing the TGTF Guide to SXSW 2013 over Christmas holiday. While there were some conversational gems that weren’t recorded – such as how frontman Kris Harris is an avid cider drinker like myself – there is loads more that was recorded in this interview with Harris, fellow Isle of Sheppey native and drummer Rob Wilks and guitarist Jack Tarrant that we did in the lovely bar area of Blackheart club on Rainey Street Thursday afternoon of this year’s SXSW. Listen to the interview below.


Interview: Bo Bruce

By on Monday, 25th March 2013 at 11:00 am

Thanks to the wonders of transatlantic phone calls, our own Carrie Clancy chatted with rising star Bo Bruce while she was doing press last Friday morning in London. In this lovely interview, Ms. Bruce talks about the importance of connecting with the fans via social media, her debut album that drops in April, her connections with Snow Patrol, and much more. Read on…

Hi Carrie.
How are you?
I am good, thank you.
Good, good. I understand you’ve had kind of a busy week doing press for your album release?
I have. It’s so disorientating. I’ve been sort of doing all the radios, all the regional radios up and down the country, it’s sort of mad.
Yeah. I have seen your name all over my Twitter feed this week with all of the press that you’re doing. Lots of tweets about you.
Oh, that’s good.

Lots of tweets from you, actually, as well. Have you found Twitter is a good way to connect with your fans?
Yeah, definitely. I’ve had to get a lot better at it. But I’m now getting a bit addicted so I’ve got to be careful.
It is kind of addictive, but it’s a good way to kind of keep track of what people are doing. Like I said, I saw both of your videos through Twitter and I saw a couple of other interviews that you’ve done, so it’s been easy for me to keep up with what you’re doing. That’s been nice.
Yeah, it’s a goodie, and it’s also sort of like, I’ve got some amazing fans who are sort of telling everyone what’s going on, and then they come and find me in whatever city doing little press things, so that’s a really good way to sort of stay in contact with everyone.
Good. Well, I assume that a lot of that fan base that you’ve earned has come from your appearance on The Voice last year.
Yeah, definitely, that’s where it started.

That was big in terms of exposure for you. I wanted to ask you about that. Something that happens with the American version of The Voice is, a lot of times I think the artists come off of that show feeling like they have to sort of prove themselves as legitimate artists and not manufactured pop stars. Have you felt any of that?
I guess because I had, you know, I was trying to put forward a music career before I did The Voice, so I’d been living in New York and I’d been gigging there and gigging in London, and I had an EP out, so I sort of felt less pressure because once The Voice had ended, my EP came out, and that went in at #2, I sort of, I felt, it was a good feeling to sort of, you know, I had stuff out there, so I didn’t feel like, you know, I really needed to say, ‘Hey, take me seriously’ because I had stuff kicking around.
Right, you’d done that already. Are the songs on the new album fairly different from what were on the EP?
Actually, it feels like a bit of an extension of that EP. They are sort of, um, bigger, perhaps, and I’ve sort of gone a little deeper into what I’ve really been needing and wanting to say. But there’s a sort of thread, a sort of sound and a vibe that’s in that EP that is definitely, that I’ve taken on a bit to the album itself.
So you’ve had a chance to grow and expand a little bit on that, that’s kind of nice.

I know on the album you have quite a few collaborations with other established artists. I had been reading that you worked with Johnny McDaid, particularly. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Yeah, Johnny was the first person I wrote with, and actually the last person. I wrote a very important song right at the start of doing the album, before they went on, Snow Patrol went on their world tour pretty soon, so we did that, and then when they got back, when I sort of felt like I’d finished writing, actually, and then we kind of got together around Christmas and wrote the very last song on my record called ‘How We’re Made’. Johnny is sort of extraordinary, he’s very keen on sort of holding a mirror up to you. You know, nothing really, you don’t get away with much. He really pushes you, and actually, he pushes me more than anyone I’ve ever really met, so when we do stuff together, it’s always pretty, well, it’s an amazing way of writing. We have a great bond, he’s a great friend.
Wow. It’s nice that you have someone like that to work with. Who else did you have the opportunity to work with on the album?
The other person that I’ve done a lot of stuff with is Henry Binns, who’s in Zero7. He kind of ended up overseeing the entire album. We sort of went through the whole mastering process together. We wrote about four songs, I mean we wrote a lot of songs, but there are four songs on there with just me and him. It’s funny, because I’ve still got stuff, obviously the album coming out, but I’m already writing for album two, so I’m going to go and see him later and get back in the studio with him. And he, again, has become a very good friend. Him and Johnny, because they’re that much older and they’ve had a successful time and they’ve sort of done that road, they were amazing to have around, in an emotional support way as well. They really know how it is, what it feels like to be a breaking artist. So, I’m incredibly grateful for that. And then, obviously Sia, who was part of Zero7 back in the day, I’ve got a song on the record with her, and Joel Pott, who’s the lead singer of Athlete, we worked together a lot.

So, it sounds like you’ve got some established artists behind you and that, if you were worried about credibility at all, that would be a stepping stone toward getting over that too. It sounds like you’re very confident in the album.
I am. I feel very much like, you know, choosing to go on a show like I did, when I already had music out, you know, there was always going to be sort of a risk involved, and I feel like I’ve made an album that I would have made had I gone on a show like that or not. I got to really continue with being who, you know, the project that I had sort of started years ago.
Right. And you said what you wanted to say?

So, you’ve talked a little bit about your plans post-album release. You said that you’ve already started writing another album. Do you have touring plans or anything like that for the summer?
Yeah. We are, I think we’re announcing the dates on Monday [today], but there’s a tour coming up this summer, and then some festivals. So, I think we’re going to be hitting the road quite soon.
You won’t even have a chance to rest.
No, it’s really crazy, I just haven’t stopped. Since that show stopped, I haven’t stopped.
I have to ask, since I write for a partially American blog, is your album being released in the U.S.?
Yeah. I don’t really know how it all works. I think anyone can get it from iTunes, right? Isn’t that how it works?
I was a little unclear. When I looked at the pre-order, I was told, “This album is not available in your country”, but I assume maybe after the release?
I saw that as well, it’s annoying. I think that’s the pre-order situation, but once it’s released on the 29th, then it’s worldwide.
Good, so our American readers will be able to get their hands on that as well.
I hope so, because the time that I spent living in New York, I built a little bit of a fan base there, so I’m really keen that they’re able to hear it.

Are you planning on doing any gigs in the U.S.?
I would absolutely love to. I think we’ve got to sort of concentrate on this side of the pond first. But I would love to go back out to New York and do some shows there.
Well, hopefully we’ll be seeing that in the future. I’m definitely looking forward to hearing the full album. I’ve heard the two songs that you’ve got out, ‘The Fall’ and ‘Save Me’.
Yeah, ‘The Fall’ was with Johnny McDaid, actually.

I think that’s how I came across that one on Twitter (via Polar Patrol Publishing). I saw the videos for both of those. The imagery for both of those is similar, and then also the cover art on your album. Is that kind of an overarching theme for you?
The guy who did the photography is a guy in the States called Eliot Lee Hazel, who actually just shot Thom Yorke’s new project called Atoms for Peace. He is very kind of raw and gritty and quite cinematic, and he was perfect for all this sort of album artwork. And then his best friend, who’s also from L.A., called Maximilla (Lukacs), she shot the video for ‘Save Me’. So it was a real collaboration between all of us about what it was that I was, you know, the sort of visual side of it all. And ‘The Fall’ itself was shot by a friend of mine, a schoolmate of mine. He obviously knows me and knows what I’m like, so that was a good one.
So he knew what would work for you, that’s good. I actually like both of those videos very much, I was just surprised how similar they were, and so I thought maybe there was a theme that you were going for there.
Well, they’re both incredibly me, I guess. I grew up in the middle of a wood in the middle of nowhere in the sort of English countryside, and that stuff never leaves me no matter whether I’ve been living in New York or the city, London, so there’s all that stuff that is so important to my lyric and the theme of what I write about.

Nice. I have one last question to ask you. Since your name has been all over my Twitter feed, I’ve been wanting to ask you about your name. I understand that Bo is not your full first name?
No, it’s not. I was always called ‘Bebe’ as a kid, and then it got sort of shortened to ‘Beebs’ and then ‘Beebo’, then ‘Bo’. (laughs) I don’t know, it’s sort of a weird one.
And that just sort of stuck?
Well, it suits you, it does seem to suit your personality. I’m looking forward to seeing your name across my Twitter feed, and I’m definitely looking forward to hearing your album when that comes out at the end of April.
Thank you.
Thank you so much for giving me a little bit of your time this morning. We appreciate it.
No worries. Lovely to talk to you and hope to speak to you again soon.

We would like to thank Hugo for sorting out this interview and of course the lovely Bo Bruce for taking the time out of her busy press schedule to chat with us.

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